It feels very
writerly of me right for me to have a post about the one thing I somehow have never spoke about: my writing process. I’ve rambled on Twitter a few times once I started releasing my flash fiction, but I know that 140 characters can’t explain this method of madness correctly. While this isn’t so much about the process and just a more key guide on understanding my writing style, it only seems right to include everyone in on this methodical process I call writing. This is a very opinionated piece that’s solely about my writing process, style, and thoughts on writing. These views are very much subject to change as a grow, too. But for now, this is the three novel idea/ projects and two short stories version of myself. What do I know, though? I’ve never been mentioned on Buzzfeed or in a Lenny Letter.
He who must not be named.
A few days ago I was watching Fight Club and took notice to something kind of important. This isn’t an event for me, looking for revelations in an almost 20-year-old film, but this time I watched it realizing something that’s always so obvious: the lead character is never named. Big surprise, huh? That’s been the biggest topic, and debate, about the film since it’s premiere except for me this was kind of spectacular. You see, I adopted this in my own writing and in a way that sets up my stories in a special, and, to me, a remarkable kind of way. What I always thought to be clever and witty was something that I developed because of this book.
Depending on the genre or type of writing I’m doing, I don’t name my characters either at all or right away. It’s not all because of Fight Club but because of how I mentally set up the story and the way it’s meant to be read. In flash fiction, once they’re named I’ll want to create a short story for them. Another reason they go unnamed in flash fiction is because I want to make them flexible for the reader’s imagination and not restrict it to my own. In a world where white is the default, I sort of feel like I’m challenging the reader to imagine someone who isn’t a white male in his mid 20s. In my short stories and longer form fiction, I simply don’t name them right away because I want his presence stated before his character. For instance, “Matthew walked into the room and placed his heavy briefcase down on the counter,” as the first sentence to me feels odd. Of course it’s all the sake of me feeling mysterious and ambiguous that I would say instead, “He walked into the room…” but I like to think I’m capturing your attention with the presence of this person before you know who he is and later his relevance to this story. Of course this is case specific, but generally, unless I love them dearly and have developed them in-depth, they don’t have names.
Title first, story second.
There have only been a few instances where a story came before its clever title. Sometimes because of this method, I end up spending more time mulling over a title that I do developing and writing the story at hand. Not always is it clever and relevant but it’s a title nonetheless. It’s a bit ironic when thinking that I don’t name characters before writing about them, but even behind the scenes/ in my notebook they all have names before the story is even written. Truthfully, the name coming first is always made important to me for the sake of referring to it by name and knowing which project I’m working on. I’m guilty of having three or more writing projects under my belt and if they don’t have a name, they simply never get tended to.
Timelines prevent ugly plot holes.
There’s nothing more annoying that a plot hole. What I’m actually guilty of is creating a timeline for every single detail that isn’t always exactly relevant to the story. For instance, in my story Go Out and Love Someone, one of the main characters is diagnosed with a heart condition. This condition was brought on by years of drug use, cancer he had treated twice via radiation then, ultimately, the condition came to be. Now, while it’s all relevant to the story, I do some reason have to go through and write it the years he was married, when he was exactly on drugs, when he began radiation (while also researching when radiation became a method for treating cancer since my story takes place in the late 90s), when he was divorced and when the condition would have begun setting in on him. Of course to me these things are important, but for a story that doesn’t begin until after this man meets the other leading man at the hospital, it’s all based on exposition whether these details are revealed.
Also, whether it’s relevant or not, creating an in-depth timeline for my characters adds depth to my characters that I couldn’t have revealed without being so thorough with them.
Characters are real people, OK?
The most important thing to me aside from the story I write are the characters I create and introduce. Sometimes characters aren’t just lives living inside of paper but, in my heart, are real people I could imagine myself meeting – or avoiding. As a storyteller, I always want to make sure that the people in my stories aren’t people … in stories. The people I make and present to the world are pieces of people I know, have met once in my life, and people I don’t personally know but think highly of from the ways in which I see them on social media or what have you.
How I develop each character is solely dependent on that character. Depending on the setting, I can’t create a character and figure them out through a playlist but instead its by the issues around them that affects them. What happens with minor characters is that I fill out a worksheet and fill in the blanks on who they are outside of the story at hand. With main characters, it’s a very different story. I learn about their mannerisms and their different quirks. I like to learn about what things they don’t do and what makes them nervous, what makes them feel uncomfortable in a conversation and even within the story, what others think of them. I develop my characters much like I develop a relationship – hungry to know everything about them and observant of them before soon I know it all like the back of my hand. The one thing that can’t happen in my story is for it to sound like I wrote it, for these people to sound like characters and not people you’ll encounter.
Take a cliché, then break that fucker in half.
One of my favorite things about writing a story is taking a story where you feel as though you know it all too well, and then bend it in ways it’s never been bent. I want to take a story that is boy meets girl then they fall in love and make it hinge on this element of suspense of give it a sense of dread such as them staying because of their joint blame in a murder or even because they’re the right kind of toxic for one another that it just feels perfect.
This idea goes for character just as much as it goes for the plot. I want to take the popular girl and make her a drug dealer. I want to make a femme fatale who struggles with not just her identity but with her health and mental health. I want strong women who’s greatest weakness is only themselves. I want men who encounter crisis’ and conquer it by addressing their own shortcomings without the help of a woman. It’s this deconstruction of what’s already known that I feel an organic story can be made.
Writing what makes me proud makes me proud.
Lately, I’ve been struggling with writing stories and presenting them to public because I feel like because of the strong call for diversity is sometimes aimed towards black and brown writers telling black and brown stories. While this doesn’t speak for everyone who believes in diverse writing (myself included) I do feel a sort of pressure to tell stories that are of my own background and my own knowledge. Personally, it’s not the kind of storyteller I am. I love stories that speak to me and show me in the story. I love stories that represent where I’ve been and what I’ve been through, but sometimes I’m not that conscious of a writer. Not all my stories channel Toni Morrison and dig deep in the psyche of a young black girl trying to get by. In a post that I’ll be making later to explain it a bit better, I’m just not interested in writing about my own culture and experiences versus a story I just enjoy telling.
With all that being said, I make sure that everything I write isn’t just good but it’s something that makes me proud and happy to share. I always make sure that the story I create is one that fully captures the reader and explores my range as a storyteller. Even if the plot doesn’t reflect me as a person and where I’ve come from, it’s a piece of me nonetheless. I love the stories I want to share, and the biggest goal I set out when beginning them all is to make sure that I’m proud of them in every which way.
I love writing. I love storytelling. I love every moment of sitting down and crafting something that may not be original and brand new but it’s my take on it. Sometimes they’re not always good, but I learn from them all. I love forcing myself to do the unfamiliar in order to make myself grow a little more. I know who I am as a writer, and I’m learning more about myself every time I sit down to begin a new project. The next step for myself to create more and share more. With that being said though, soon I’ll be featured in the first issue of a new zine called Spill Yr Guts made by my dear friend Sonya. This horror magazine is for all this spooky and creepy, and I am honored to have my very first short story published in it. If this is your kind of jam and you’re up for supporting your local spooky gang, like the page and purchase the first issue when it drops!